New polling of Kiwi attitudes on climate change, released exclusively to Newsroom, shows most people perceived individual actions as having a greater impact on greenhouse gas emissions than they actually do.

The annual survey by Ipsos polled 1002 people in New Zealand and compared the results with polls of 21,231 people across 29 other countries. It found a global trend of lack of faith in government climate plans. Here, just 31 percent agreed the Government has a clear plan for tackling climate change, down from 46 percent last year.

Just three in 10 respondents said New Zealand is a world leader in the fight against climate change, while an equal number disagreed.

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While expectations for governments are higher, they declined slightly for businesses and individuals. Two thirds of Kiwis polled said they would be failing future generations if they didn’t act now to combat the climate crisis, but that was down 6 percentage points from 2022.

“While we see eight out of 10 New Zealanders say they are concerned about the impact of climate change in New Zealand and five out of 10 say that seeing the impact of climate-driven events in their country would encourage them to take personal action, it is concerning that the severe weather events we have experienced this year have not resulted in an increase in New Zealanders recognising that if we don’t act now to combat climate change, we are failing future generations,” Carin Hercock, managing director of Ipsos New Zealand, said.

“We see a similar trend in a reduction in climate change urgency across other countries Ipsos monitors which may be related to the global trend of inflation dominating the issues citizens across the world are concerned about.”

For the first time, the survey asked this year about reasons people aren’t worried about climate. Kiwis were less likely to say that climate impacts were too far off in the future or that the problem was already too far gone than the global average, but 31 percent said now isn’t the right time to be investing in climate measures given economic conditions. That’s similar to the 30 percent of people from other countries who agreed with that statement.

Ipsos also sought insight into what would encourage people to take more action than they currently are. Half of Kiwis said the visible impacts of climate-fuelled extreme weather here, financial incentives and access to information would encourage them to do more. That was higher than the third or so of respondents from other countries who highlighted those issues.

Despite this, New Zealanders had less of an understanding of what effective individual action looks like or where the problem comes from.

When quizzed on which actions would have the most impact on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Kiwis rallied behind recycling as making the biggest difference. Recycling actually has an almost negligible climate impact, although it is good for the broader environment. Ipsos cited a 2020 study which ranked recycling 60th among changing consumption options for mitigating climate change.

Previous Ipsos polls have displayed a similar trend, with Kiwis repeatedly identifying recycling as the biggest climate problem.

Respondents’ second choice, switching to purchasing renewable energy, was ranked fourth, but the rest of the top five picks (growing your own food, buying products with less package and buying fewer items) ranged from 23rd to 46th in the rankings.

The number one option, living car-free, was selected by just 12 percent of New Zealanders, compared with 18 percent in other countries. Kiwis were also less likely to identify refurbishing houses for energy efficiency (ranked sixth) or going vegan (seventh) as effective, compared with respondents overseas.

“New Zealanders are still overestimating the impact actions like recycling, growing your own food, using less packaging and buying fewer items will have in contributing to the reduction in greenhouse emissions and underestimating the actions that might be harder to do, but will have a far greater impact such as living car free, using public transport or improving housing for energy efficiency,” Ipsos New Zealand’s research director for public affairs Amanda Dudding said.

“Our understanding of many of these high-impact actions are a lot lower than the global average so clearly more education is required.”

Those polled in New Zealand were also less likely to recognise the industry, electricity and heat production sector as the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions, though this may be a result of New Zealand’s unique emissions profile. Instead, Kiwis singled out transport as the number one contributor (it’s actually third) and land uses including deforestation and agriculture as the second (correct!).

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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